RATO MACHHINDRANATH – RED FISH GOD

A Cultural festival from Nepal.

The Legend says that Guru Gorakhnath became very angry when, upon his request, he wasn’t offered any alms from the locals during his visit to Patan. To punish them, he decided to capture the snakes which were responsible for the rain. As a result, the valley suffered a terrible drought.

The King Narendra Dev then bought Machhindranath, teacher of Gorakhnath from Assam in India, with the hope to end the drought. When Gorakhnath heard his teacher was in Patan, he decided to visit him and set the serpents free. The valley then had plenty of rain. Being thankful to Machhindranath the local started to worship him for saving them from the drought and King Narendra Deve started the festival of Rato Machhindranath in 879 A.D.

Whether true or not, we love to hear stories and the story of Rato Machhindranath has many versions. Maybe that is why it is called a legend.

Nepal celebrates many cultural and traditional festivals each year. Rato Machhinndranath is one of the grand and epic festivals in Nepal. Rato Machhindranath means ‘Red Fish God’. Therefore, that is why the statue of the deity is painted in red. The Rato Machhendranath festival is celebrated every year in Patan, Kathmandu, just before the monsoon, during in April- May. People participate to Rato Machhindranath celebrations for the whole month. Rato Machhindranath is known as the god of rain and both Hindus and Buddhists worship Machhindranath to prevent drought during the rice harvest season.

The 1600 years old festival of Nepal starts every year depending on an auspicious date calculated by priests. All the tiniest detail and rituals are calculated and prepared in advance in accordance with the astrological signs needed for all the rituals. The festival formally starts after the ritual of Gai Daan (cow donation). The preparation for the festival starts with the bathing ritual of the statue of Rato Machhindranath in Lagankhel square in Patan. The statue which is kept in the 16th-century old Rato Machhindranath’s Temple located in the south of Patan Durbar Square is transported in a chariot at an ordained date.

On the last day of the festival month, people prepare and decorate the chariot for the big day. The chariot consists of a large wooden edifice of about 20m in height and 4.5m in diameter. The edifice is built in a mountain shape. Interesting fact: no nails were used to build the wooden structure.
It is fascinating to see the chariot being pulled by devotees. During the chariot pulling, exciting sounds coming from traditional music instruments such as Dhime (drums) and Bhushya ( a pair of big brass cymbals) or from Guruju Paltan’s flutes (Sarduljung is a military Battalion) add to the festive mood of the gathering.

There is an interesting part in chariot pulling. The chariot is pulled only by women of all ages on a few meters in order to represent the equal status of women in the society.

The chariot parades between Patan and Bungamati. Bungamati is one of the prettiest villages in the valley. This historic village is the birthplace of Rato Machhindranath, the patron god of Patan. Thousands of people watch this event and come to make offerings. The procession concludes after the chariot crosses the Bungamati in Lalitpur. The festival ends with another festival called the Bhoto Jatra.

On the final day of the festival a bejewelled vest is shown by a Government official to the crowd, in presence of Patan’s Kumari (Living Goddess) and the president, the head of state (it previously used to be the King before the abolition of the monarchy system in Nepal), in hope that the owner will come forward with the evidence to claim it. It is believed that seeing the ‘Bhoto’ brings good luck. Bhoto Jatra is symbolically celebrated to find the owner of a Vest gifted to a farmer of Lalitpur by a serpent.

Edited by Jeevan Thapa

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